Muslims in Indonesia violating rights of Christians

Concerns are growing over at least 50 cases of religious freedom violations against Christians in Indonesia last year, as not only extremists but ordinary Muslims were responsible for many of the acts of intolerance and violence, according to a recent study.

"Cases of intolerance against Christians remained high in the country" in 2012, Bonar Tigor Naipospos, deputy chairman of the Jakarta-based group Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, told Morning Star News.

According to a story by Morning Star News, Christians were targeted in at least 50 of 264 cases of religious freedom violations in 2012, more than any other group, Naipospos added.

Setara recorded 54 such cases against Christians in 2011, following the especially volatile year of 2010, when there were 75 cases against Christians.

Setara's Report on Freedom of Religion and Belief in 2012 notes that the 264 cases of religious freedom violations overall last year include 371 "acts" against religious minorities, as one case often involves more than one attack or action.

Morning Star News said the Setara report came days before more than 200 local Muslims threw rotten eggs at Christians going to a worship service in Bekasi on Christmas Eve.

A photographer from Agence France-Presse witnessed furious men and headscarf-clad women blocking the road and launching the eggs at members of the Filadelfia Batak Christian Protestant Church (locally known as the HKBP) on the outskirts of Jakarta.

Morning Star News reported that the attack was the latest in a series of clashes between members of the HKBP and Muslim residents who oppose the church's existence. The Bekasi administration closed the church's building in 2009, and it remains sealed in defiance of a Supreme Court order in favor of the church.

"During the attack, Tambun Police Chief Comdr. Andri Ananta and North Tambun District head Suhartono did nothing," the Rev. Palti Panjaitan, pastor of the church, complained at a press conference in Jakarta on Dec. 26.

At the same time, Morning Star News reported, members of the Yasmin Indonesian Christian Church (locally known as the GKI) in the Jakarta suburb of Bogor - another church sealed by authorities (in April 2010) - celebrated Christmas in the open air. The church, which has faced many violent attacks, remains locked despite a ruling of the apex court ordering local authorities to allow members to use the building.

The two churches held a joint-morning service on Christmas Day in front of the Presidential Palace in Jakarta as part of a protest.

Morning Star News said a sign of growing intolerance could be seen days before Christmas when the Indonesia Ulema Council (the MUI, a confederation that represents all Muslim groups to the government) issued a fatwa forbidding all Muslims from extending Christmas greetings to Christians. It also asked President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to skip Christmas celebrations.

Suffering at least 50 cases, Christians were the main target of religious freedom violations and violence in the Sunni Muslim-majority country. The Shia minority witnessed 34 incidents against their members, and Ahmadiyyas - a Muslim minority sect seen as heretical by Sunni Muslims - were the targets in 31 cases.

Ordinary Muslims

Morning Star News said that while Indonesia's Muslim majority population of 232.5 million is believed to be largely tolerant, a trend is emerging of ordinary local Muslims leading violent attacks, not just outside extremist groups, the report found.

Many violent attacks were carried out with impunity by local Sunni Muslims, indicating that "the virus of intolerance" has trickled down from extremists to ordinary residents, Naipospos said.

On top of the list of non-state actors were "citizens," responsible for 76 cases of religious freedom violations - as opposed to the extremist group Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), which was behind 24 cases, and the MUI, which was responsible for 25 cases, according to the report.

Morning Star News said state officials were involved in 154 of the 264 cases of religious freedom violations. The report says police officials were involved in 40 cases, followed by district administration officials at 28 cases.

Morning Star News reported that the 264 cases occurred in 28 of the country's 33 provinces, the most volatile region being Java Island, where more than 2.5 million Christians live. Most of the Christians in Java are migrants from other areas who have come in search of jobs over the years.

West Java Province, where Bogor and Bekasi are located, witnessed the highest number of religious rights violations this year, with 76 cases. Next came East Java with 42 cases. West Java is home to about 520,000 Christians, East Java 1.28 million.

Morning Star News said Aceh Province, with the highest proportion of Muslims in Indonesia and partially governed by sharia law, recorded 36 cases in 2012. In Banda Aceh, the provincial capital, authorities closed down nine churches earlier in the year under the pretext that they were not legal. The churches, which remain officially closed, had been functioning for years.

Central Java Province, where about 650,000 Christians live, witnessed 30 cases in 2012. South Sulawesi, which has 803,000 Christians, recorded 17 cases.

Morning Star News said the report does not give an optimistic outlook for the year ahead. Regional elections are due in 2013, and preparations are underway for national elections in 2014. The politically active months ahead could result in a higher incidence of intolerance and violence, as parties are expected to use religion to woo Muslim voters and support of influential extremist groups, Naipospos warned.

Morning Star News said religious intolerance overall in Indonesia has been rising for the past five years. The Setara Institute recorded 135 cases of intolerance in 2007, 265 cases in 2008, 200 in 2009, 216 in 2010, 244 in 2011, and 264 incidents last year.

Theophilus Bela, president of the Jakarta Christian Communication Forum, told Morning Star News that his group recorded 75 incidents of intolerance and violence against Christians - actual and planned - across the country last year. The planned incidents were those his group prevented with the help of local authorities, he noted.

"Still, the actual number of incidents could be higher, as not all cases come to one group's notice," Bela said.